No change for Sharon a year later

His sons Omri and Gilad insist that everything be done to keep him alive.

sharon 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
sharon 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Monday marks the first anniversary of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon's ischemic stroke, from which he recovered but which was followed on January 4 with his devastating hemorrhaging stroke that plunged him into the deep coma in which he is still ensconced today. Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer had only a terse statement to mark the anniversary: "There has been no change in Ariel Sharon's [lack of] consciousness or general functioning in the last months. He receives supportive care in the hospital's respiratory rehabilitation department." After numerous operations at Sheba and Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, where he spent the first five months after the second stroke, Sharon is still breathing only with the help of a respirator. Apparently oblivious to what goes around him and spared from pain, he is frequently visited by his sons Omri and Gilad, who have reduced to a minimum the number of visitors permitted to see him. Sharon's medical file reads like a tragedy, an effort of dozens of well-meaning and dedicated doctors and nurses trying to save his life and restore his mental and physical functioning. But virtually no one, except his sons, is saying that they still expect him to wake up, get out of bed and move to his Negev ranch. Omri and Gilad, who have periodically claimed their comatose father reacted to their voices and stimulation - insist that everything be done to keep him alive. Depending on his long-living mother's "good genes" and ignoring advice to change his lifestyle and lose weight, Sharon took his health for granted. But on December 18, everything began to unravel. The then-prime minister, in the midst of an election campaign, was en route from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv when he felt unwell. His driver made a U-turn on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway to take him to Hadassah University Medical Center. There he was diagnosed with a minor ischemic stroke that left no disability, and he was treated and released soon after. But subsequent medical tests uncovered the existence of a hole in the septum between the two atria of his heart. His Hadassah doctors prescribed the insertion under general anesthesia of a clamp to close the hole, to eliminate the risk that it would cause a blood clot to move into his brain and trigger another ischemic stroke. He was given a cocktail of powerful anti-clotting agents to minimize the risk of another clot and told to rest, but he largely ignored the advice because of the election campaign. A press conference on his health and treatment was called by the Prime Minister's Office to which political and diplomatic correspondents - rather than health reporters - were invited. Two Hadassah physicians who headed his medical team explained his condition in medical terms that were misunderstood by the reporters, who were laymen. Sharon's basic problem, of which he was probably unaware, was cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) - a brain disorder in which amyloid proteins accumulate in the blood vessels and make them fragile. Further progression of his CAA led to the development of large holes in his brain, leaving no hope of recovery from his vegetative state. On January 4, the night before he was to undergo a catheterization procedure at Hadassah's cardiology department to close the tiny hole, Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke at his Negev ranch. His journey by ambulance to Hadassah took longer than necessary, owing to delays in the arrival of his personal doctor, and it was decided to take him to Jerusalem, where doctors were familiar with his medical history, rather than to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, which was much closer. Hadassah neurosurgeons worked for many hours to stop the massive intracranial bleeding on the right side of his brain that put pressure on the tissue and caused major brain damage. Several operations within a few days brought an end to the bleeding as Sharon was put into a drug-induced coma in the hope that he could recover and be awakened. His chief neurosurgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, predicted on January 7 that Sharon would survive his massive stroke. "He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care. He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak," Cohen suggested. But Sharon suffered one setback after another, and wasn't able even to be weaned from his respirator at Hadassah. Criticism of Hadassah's treatment strategy between the first and second stroke was widely voiced by doctors in hospitals in other parts of the country and abroad and some demanded an impartial investigation, but the Hadassah Medical Organization insisted he was given the best possible care. Sharon underwent seven operations at Hadassah, including the insertion of a semi-permanent peripherally inserted central catheter, removal of a section of his large intestine after a clot caused necrosis, and the replacement of a quarter of his skull that had been removed for brain operations. Then, with his life signs finally stabilized but remaining in a deep coma, Sharon was transferred on May 28 to Sheba Medical Center's respiratory rehabilitation center, where doctors said they hoped at least to get him to breathe on his own and maybe even to allow him to undergo therapy and be moved to his ranch. During the last week of July, Sharon took a turn for the worse, developing edema (swelling due to accumulation of liquids), changes in his brain tissue and kidney failure. He was attached to a hemofiltration system at Sheba's intensive care unit and given broad-spectrum antibiotics and corticosteroids to fight his double pneumonia, but his doctors were able to stabilize him. Outside experts said a heart attack or another massive infection were the main things that could cause his death.